Don’t mess with her

If I were to say “nun” you would probably think of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Or Ingrid Bergman in “The Bells of Saint Mary’s.” If so, read on.

When I was about thirteen, I was invited to the First Holy Communion of the son of a family friend. In Bensonhurst.

If you’re not from New York, you didn’t burst out laughing when I wrote that, so let me tell you that Bensonhurst was traditionally a very Italian part of Brooklyn where you could count on big churches and a heavy Mafia presence. Traditionally, Italian-Americans had strong attachment to the church, were taught a knee-jerk respect for nuns, and love the Virgin Mary.

About the last, Bensonhurst was the neighborhood where the Mafia dons paid for a very expensive gold crown to be placed on the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

(Apparently there are some people who fully expect that running numbers, murder, drug-dealing and extortion are erased in this fashion. I’m trying to imagine this scenario:

Jesus, on the Judgment Seat: You asked a store owner for $500, and when he didn’t give it to you, you burned down his store.
Mafia Don: Yeah, I guess I did.
Jesus: And you knowingly resold stolen goods.
Mafia Don: Yeah, that too.
Jesus: What do you have to say for yourself?
Mafia Don: I used some of the funds from the stolen goods and the extortion to buy a crown for a statue of your mother.
Jesus: Oh! Why didn’t you say so sooner? Enter into the Kingdom of Heaven!

Yeaaaaaah, right. The Bible asks us to tithe off our harvest but does not, strangely, instruct us to tithe off the money we steal from other people.)

Anyhow, when the crown got stolen, the police couldn’t find the thief, but the Mafia quietly put the word on the streets that anyone found with the crown would be never be found again. Not even in tiny pieces. As a result, no fence would touch it, and one day an anonymous tip told the local police that they’d find a very nice, very expensive statue-sized crown in a dumpster over behind one of the buildings.

Back to the story: we got invited to a First Holy Communion in Bensonhurst in the mid-1980s, and when we arrived half an hour early, the place was already packed. By the time it started, the church was crammed full.

The director of religious education made an announcement telling us no photography or videotaping would be allowed during the service. This was fine with the crowd. Everyone put away their cameras out of respect for the solemnity of the occasion.

Oh, wait. What I meant to say was, people thought this was on a par with the priest coming out with a butcher knife and saying, “So, whose kid should I sacrifice first?” But by the time it started, most people had calmed down.

About ten minutes into the ceremony, a man went to the front of the church with a camcorder and started video taping. There’s always one in a crowd.

A moment later, his camcorder was blocked by someone planting herself in front of him. He looked up from the eyepiece with a furious look on his face…and then backed away.

Because the person planted in front of his camera lens was a nun. A six-foot tall nun built like a refrigerator, her arms folded, her habit flowing like a black shroud, and her face one deeply-etched scowl.

Do not mess with a nun defending her God.

A decade’s worth of Catholic School training kicked in. Mr. Camcorder scuttled away like a chastened second-grader, clutching his contraband video camera to his chest.

I had a hard time not laughing out loud, but I refrained. The solemnity of the occasion, you know. Plus, looking back, it’s good I didn’t mess with her. 🙂


  1. Suz

    Heh heh.. I’m lovin’ it. I always thought the Catholic mafia stuff was exaggerated… apparently not.